Budapest to Berlin: stranger on a train


In early June, while anyone in Britain turned into arguing approximately Europe, I discovered myself in Budapest. I had fond recollections of my handiest preceding visit, in 2013, when I’d been there for a literary competition. After one of the limitless drinks parties I’d fallen into step with a collection in search of dinner and wound up talking to a tall guy with prominent eyebrows and burgundy trousers. “I got married in there,” he stated casually, pointing at St Stephen’s Basilica.

“It must have been difficult to fill,” I answered with a certain froideur. This turned into a piece like a person nodding at Wembley Stadium and mentioning their seven-night run there. I wasn’t about to wave it through unchecked.

“No longer surely. In reality, people crowded out of doors and it turned into proven on television.”

“I see. Why become that?” “Nicely, my grandfather became the ultimate emperor,” he defined, moments before I fell again to Google him. Though the Habsburgs now not rule, I learned later that the call nevertheless secures preferential remedy in a steakhouse.
A person status at a brightly painted bar and a woman in a hammock
‘Brooklynite dreams for a 10th of the fee’: a ruin bar inside the Jewish quarter. Picture: Alamy

My other enduring impression became of an anarchic day that commenced as a strolling excursion of the antique metropolis and ended with hamburgers and beer in a pedal cart. My guide Zsuzsi and I stayed in contact thru Fb, and that I looked her up as quickly as I arrived this time.

If you haven’t been to Budapest currently, you likely have the wrong idea approximately it. For my dad and mom’ era it was a cheap weekend behind the Iron Curtain, where your interest was pitched against your growing boredom with goulash. Because becoming a member of the european it has turn out to be a cheap preferred for stag and bird dos, a truth Not unrelated to pints of beer that adhere stubbornly to a fee of less than £1. However, a wiser and extra interesting scene is rising, too.

The ruin bars – dilapidated homes, specifically inside the Jewish area, given new lifestyles during the last decade with the aid of canny marketers – have turn out to be markedly smarter and hipper. At bars like Mazel Tov, Racskert and Most you could take a seat in clothier fixtures in airy atriums, playing the kind of night out Brooklynites dream of, for a 10th of the fee. “The nearby proprietors bitch approximately the noise However their flats are really worth five times what they had been,” Zsuzsi’s boyfriend Alex informed me. He owns a hostel himself, Casa de Los angeles Musica, in an antique dance faculty.

The seats had been all burgundy. I settled into mine and waited for a stranger to ask me to murder his father

The next morning I woke at six to catch a train to Berlin. I was excited about the adventure. Over eleven and a half hours it would take me thru four nations, three of which I hadn’t visited before. My 7339ff1fc90882f8f31ca1efdd2ac191 price tag, bought the day earlier than, turned into simply €60. Take that, easyJet. The seats had been extensive and comfy, with a plug for my devices. The subsequent carriage alongside had a82ee8a4ee179e54beacaecce0423cb2 personal cubicles with a corridor down the out of doors. Past that became an eating car. All had been upholstered in deep burgundy. As we rolled out of the metropolis, tracing the Danube again towards its supply, A man served coffee and handed out newspapers. I settled into my chair and waited for a stranger to invite me to murder his father.

After half an hour we crossed into Slovakia towards Bratislava. From there we became north toward the Czech Republic, near sufficient to investigate Austria However Now not pretty crossing its frontier. At every border a new conductor were given on to stamp my price tag. I used to be the only one within the carriage going the whole manner. Nobody requested for a passport. As we left Brno I was peckish, so went to the dining car and ordered paprika hen with dumplings and a chilly beer. Sweeping crumbs off the tablecloth I pondered how many BLTs I’d eaten on British trains. 100? What a sad waste of existence.

At Prague the platform become 3-deep with Interrailers, who piled on to the educate. Happily none of them had booked into first magnificence except for one American girl with a suspiciously new-searching backpack. We exchanged a glance which conveyed what we concept approximately the passengers behind the teach, especially that they had been suckers.
The physical geography of this a part of the continent is pretty uniform, at the least to A man seeing it for the primary time with 1/2 a watch on his WhatsApp. It slid past as a form of Mittel-Ecu diorama. Meadows and mountains grew darker-inexperienced as we trundled north underneath a breathless blue sky, the Bohemian landscape carved via rivers of flashing silver. extra significant turned into the human geography. The nearer you get to Germany the newer the vehicles, the more neat the gardens, the brisker the paint at the walls. It’s like seeing a history of overlook in opposite. As we crossed the Elbe at Dresden two rowing eights beat a lazy pace upstream.
A cafe in the coronary heart of Kreuzberg.
A restaurant in the coronary heart of Kreuzberg. Photo: Maremagnum/Getty Pics

We pulled into Berlin in the early evening, two mins later than scheduled. I’ve been behind schedule for longer between Charing Move and Embankment. At Hauptbahnhof I tried to shop for a price tag for the S-Bahn. The price tag system indexed options for refugees and those interested in a homosexual excursion of the city However Not, as some distance as I could tell, for “single journey to precise station”. I selected something that promised “all access” However it wouldn’t take my Visa. Cursing, I made an intellectual be aware in no way again to be impolite about Oyster playing cards and went to search for a cab. Time become tight: I had an early educate to Paris to capture day after today and that I wanted to spend awhile with my cousin Kate.

She moved to Berlin final year along with her boyfriend, lured via reasonably-priced hire and exhilarating, keenly priced nightlife. They insisted on displaying me a number of the latter, or as a minimum the elements of it in walking distance of their flat in Kreuzberg. I handiest remember the primary bars with any clarity. One became embellished with pics of the Muppets. “We are the identical, you and that i,” said the owner, together with his hand on his heart in a gesture of unity. He appeared to have sampled some of his personal wares. “Me – Saxony. You – Saxon,” he stated. We ordered extra beer.

The price ticket machine in Berlin listed options for refugees and those interested by gay tours of the town

The educate to Paris left simply after seven The subsequent morning. Or as a substitute, I count on it did, But I can’t be sure because on the time I was mendacity with my mouth open on Kate’s futon. “You’re nevertheless right here,” she said unhelpfully as I stumbled closer to the bathroom in pursuit of my contact lenses. We surpassed the relaxation of the morning taking walks around Tempelhof Field, the previous airport which Considering 2008 has been left to end up a public park. My hangover eased enough to recognize what an =”hide”>extraordinary=”tipsBox”> public space this is. The imposing terminal, planned by means of Albert Speer to be the hub of the 1,000-yr Reich, now homes refugees. To the trilling of unseen skylarks, rollerbladers and joggers trundle up and down the runway that changed into as soon as on the heart of the Berlin Airlift. Airlift. Planes. Struck by way of a foxy plan, I took out my smartphone. In much less than 30 seconds I’d booked a price tag to Paris that afternoon. Sorry about what I said in advance, easyJet.